Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Of Paranormal Experiences in Cebu City

I promised to write about the paranormal things that we experienced as a family back when we lived in Escario extension in Cebu City. We rented this huge house that had six bedrooms upstairs and a huge den/bedroom downstairs with a proper bar that had this “reminiscent of cowboy movies” swining-door and a huge front and backyard. The house also stood next to a vacant lot that had some mango trees and a huge and ancient acacia tree that stood near the wall of the house. This wall is where the second floor’s bathroom is located. This bathroom joins my parents bedroom and our bedroom (my younger brother Alvin and I slept in this room with Tia Meding).

In the beginning, we noticed some strange little things like the sound of the typewriter being used upstairs when nobody was even there! My dad had converted part of the second floor into an office and he had his desk set-up with this old, bulky typewriter on the side of the table. Nobody save for my parents were ever allowed near this table and the file cabinets that held important documents. We were all scolded if we ever played near the “office” so everyone kept well away. However on some days, there would be someone typing on that enormous typewriter – when my dad was in his office, my older brothers were still in school and everyone was in the den or the living room watching TV. Being a tropical country, most home dwellers would stay on the ground floor where it is cooler. At first my grandmother suspected it to be just the cats, playing on dad’s desk. But as kids, we couldn’t imagine cats to be so clever as to type on a machine that needed quite some strength to push the keys off and make that distinct “imprinting” sound: the tap, tap, tap of a typewriter. Later on we'd hear laughter like children at play, only the kids back then were just Alvin and I and we'd be asleep when stranger childlike laughter would fill our home.

Then there is the imaginary friend that my younger brother, Alvin has. He talks to them and he described them as small, as tall as he is, and that there is more than one that he plays with. Being children, I too had an imaginary friend I named ‘Petunia’ whom I so convincingly created and pretended to be real that my brother had even inherited her. But for all her fun and laughter that she brought to us, Petunia was definitely make-believe. Unlike the new friends my brother has...they were real!

He liked playing in the bathroom that joins my parents and our bedrooms. Until now, he’s well over-30 my brother liked doing things that involved water – be it washing his car, washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom or washing his maongs (jeans). So often in the day when its summer or there’s no school to go to, he’d be up there splashing and laughing and talking to himself. Everyone thought it was just normal. Mom was more worried of him accidentally slipping or putting his head into the huge pail of water and drown than for anything else. However he started to develop huge pimple-like breakouts on his skin. Like an inverted pimple where you don’t see the ‘eye’ these lumps started to grow on his legs and arms, his chest and all over his body. My parents were desperate for a cure! We’ve been everywhere: his pediatrician (he was only about 3 or 4 years old then); Chong Hua Hospital (which is considered the best medical care in Cebu back then); even quack doctors and herbolarios (traditional medicine men or healers that uses herbs and oils). One of these herbolarios used a candle that he lets drip onto a basin of water. The shape of a small man formed. In Filipino, we call these “duendes” (fairies or elves). He suggested to perform some form of ritual to be rid of them but my parents refused, disbelieving the man. All forms of medicines and ointments have already been used on my brother at this point and my parents were desperate for a cure although, they wouldn’t want to succumb to killing a chicken and spilling its blood type of ritual, yet.

The worst of the strange events happened after Valentines’ Day in the early 80’s. My parents are members of socio-civic organisations like my dad is a member of Kiwanis Club while my mom was a member of the Cebu Jaycees. That V-day, mom held a party for her fellow Jaycees in our home. Dad also invited some Belgian guests from work and other close friends. It was a fun night and I was even allowed to join the party handing out party favours to the women and asking everyone to sign in this huge cardboard heart that served as a guestbook. Guests enjoyed the night and stayed on until the wee hours, laughing and having fun. We we’re all shocked by what we saw the very next day!

The long bar situated under the staircase was ransacked. Bottles appeared to have been melted out of shape! This was no ordinary melting as there was no sign of any burn or charring. The swinging cowboy door was pulled out of its hinges and being secured by huge bolts, it looked like only someone really strong could have done it. My parents were baffled. The last of the guests left at about 4:00 am. There was just my parents and some elder family members left who did a quick clean-up of the party leftovers and went to bed, deciding to do the rest of the cleaning the following day. We all woke up at around 9:00 am and still in pajamas, we all heard the scream of our ‘house help’ (maid) who had been up since 7:00 but had only been through the living room for the first time. She’d had breakfast and cooked breakfast for the family, she was off to the sala (living room) to clean up the rest of the previous night’s party mess when she saw the bar in this state. We all ran to her aid, thinking she’d been hurt but she just pointed at the bar and was shivering in fear.

My parents even called the police and they came, took some pictures and interviewed the adults about the night. Yet the puzzle remains unsolved. Nothing was taken, nothing was lost. No one was really hurt save for the poor wine and alcohol bottles that have been re-shaped out of their original state and the swinging door that has been pulled off its hinges.

A friend who claimed to be a “seer” of sorts explained to my mom that the duendes were upset about all the noise and ruckus of the party that they destroyed all the alcohol and wine so that people would stay sober and not make such disturbing noises. Also she added that my brother, Alvin can see them too and has been playing with them. They like him so much (being so cute and chubby back then; see our picture below...) that when at play, many of these duendes would pinch him, thus the unexplained and incurable lump-like pimple-like outbreaks on his arms and legs and chest. These duendes lived in the huge acacia tree that stands near the wall that is to our bedroom and the shared bathroom.

We haven’t really noticed it but perhaps due to a previous typhoon and heavy rainfall, the branches of the acacia tree had fallen and leaned towards the wall, and a huge branch has settled near the window of the bathroom. This had enabled to “others”, these paranormal creatures to venture into our bathroom where they met the cute Alvin and made friends. Eventually, some had ventured more and more into the house and have played with the typewriter, in the rooms upstairs and even downstairs where on a really dusty day, we’d see small footprints on furniture where the dust had seemed to settle. At first we thought they we’re the cats or dogs’ footprints but looked too human in shape and yet too small to be ever mine or my brother’s the only children in the house. These footprints were also on odd places where no human child could ever reach or even canine and feline pets would have difficulty reaching.

With this revelation, my parents have decided to move homes. Thus saying goodbye to Escario Extension, we moved to V. Luna, into a 5-door apartment where we occupied one unit and my grandmother opened a convenient store. Alvin's "pimples" misteriously just all disappeared and got miraculously cured.

More on Cebu life stories on my next blog.

Just an added thing, which may be of interest: I asked my brother how they looked like, his so-called duende friends and he described them as looking like gnomes but not fat, more like hobbits in their build. Slim, like 3 year old pre-schoolers in height, they har pointed ears, wore pointy hats and costumes like those of a gnome...but not at fat or heavy. They also looked younger, not the old bearded faces of gnomes. Below is a picture of a gnome and a hobbit - you just have to combine the bits together to get an idea of how the duendes may have looked like to my brother and why he liked playing with them in the bathroom.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Teachers, the foundation years

The gypsy in us brought us to Cebu in Lahug. Dad was then working for Eternit Corporation, a French-based company that sold asbestos roofing before it was discovered that asbestos caused all kinds of diseases including cancer. His office was in Magellan Hotel. Dad was also an active member of the Kiwanis Club of Cebu.

Alvin went to St. Francis of Assisi, near the Redemptorist Church as a Nursery student and I went to the Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepcion in Cebu. We lived in a huge seven-bedroom house in Escario Extension that had some other “creatures” living in it too! My first hand experience into the paranormal, indeed!

I was Grade 2 under Madame Dotillos. She was a petite but stern pregnant woman who despite her size managed to keep us all in our best behaviors. I had friends named Erika, Marie Blanche Regual, Lara Briones, Frances Dawn Reynes, Judy Halili and Carmenchu Seno. There was also this little girl, a classmate of ours who had a red mole on her nose like what you’d imagine Rudolf would have. I remember her name was Ethel and she had really curly hair. She sat to my right in our class picture. I think the girl’s name who sat on my left was Carmela. I can no longer recall her surname. Among the boys I would only recall Jeffrey Manalaysay and Jonathan Alino. See our class picture below.

I remember I used to go home with Blanche in their arts and crafts souvenir store where I’d eat lunch with her and her younger siblings. Her mom runs the shop and they stayed there with her. I brought lunch with me, packed in a plastic container with a table napkin and cutleries. Sometimes, I would go to Erika’s house. I don’t know if classes extended until the afternoons or perhaps on some days we had classes till the afternoon and other days no, because one time I sneaked out of Tia Meding’s eye. Tia Meding is actually my grandmother’s cousin who was a soltera (unmarried till old age) and lived with us. She was quite a good cook and also helped in marketing and picking us kids from school. I liked testing how independent I’ve become so one time, when she was already waiting for me to collect me from school; I escaped and took the jeepney home on my own. The fare then was 35 centavos from my school to our home and it’s the same price for an 8oz bottle of Coca Cola. My ‘baon’ (cash for Recess) was 1 peso and I had packed sandwiches, fruit juices and water as well as an occasional lunch packet with me. Poor Tia Meding arrived home in breathless panic only to find me already in my home clothes and getting ready for my afternoon nap!

Grade 3 was in the same school, mostly with the same classmates and our class adviser then was Miss Fe Susaya who I will not forget because she said she used to be so insecured about her large owl-like eyes when her father told her that she is lucky to have such beautiful eyes, so she must not feel bad instead be proud of what she has. More or less I still kept the same friends with a new best friend: Maria Milagros Llarranaga who had two small brothers, Paco and Emmanuel. They lived in Cebu but holidayed in Spain where they originally came from and I remembered Mimi as this new student in a new school and befriended her. We easily got along and were inseparable in the third grade. We also had a much older classmate whose name escapes me now. She played with us but she was sort of the one who knows much about love. She’s had a boyfriend! Also she’s already had menstruation and we were all asking her all sorts of questions about that! I had my first admirer in the third grade and his family owned a guitar factory in Cebu. Our class even went there for a field trip but sadly, I had forgotten his name. Pictures of Grade III section White – in our school uniforms and our Christmas party, below:

Next blog, remember I said I had first-hand experience in the paranormal? Well details will be posted next time :-) Also more of CIC memories....

Teachers, the early years

I’ve blogged on the hopes and pains of teaching in my previous post, particularly teaching students in these parts of the desert and now I wonder about the many teachers who have come my way. I barely remember many of them and some I have totally forgotten. There are a few that have stuck, mainly because I did like them or learnt well from them or was so terrorized of them that forgetting even their middle names will mean mortal peril to me and mine.

I also saw a bulletin post in Friendster asking about past teachers and so this has prompted me to travel back into my memories and recall the many mentors that have helped mould me into the learner that I am today.

Kindergarten was in Bacolod City at the St. Rose of Lima school. I’ve had several teachers from Kinder to Preparatory but the one name that stuck is Sister Lina. She was really sweet and kind to a very young me. Many of my classmates then had bladder problems, wetting their uniforms and getting all messy and whiny, but I remembered her to be just as caring to the bad ones as to the good ones – fair and stern when required, our only punishment when bad is to go to sleep.

I cannot remember any of my classmates now, except for Louie Reyes who had an older brother Bonnell Reyes and a younger sister Maria Reyes. They were our neighbors and my and my younger brother Alvin’s playmates. Since Maria and Alvin are the same age – toddlers at 2, Louie and I would pretend to play house and the two would be our children. Their mother, Tita Norie Reyes was a good friend of my mom. They moved to Connecticut after about a year and we’ve lost track of them then.

Grade school was a mix of private and public schools that also took us to another city. I studied Grade 1 in Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepcion in Mandaue City. I have forgotten all the names of my teachers in the first grade. I was more involved in watching the latest anime outing on TV like Voltes V, Candy-Candy, Ron-Ron and the Flower Angels, Mekanda Robots, Glendaizer, Daimos and their contemporaries. But one teacher really stuck – despite me forgetting her name. I got sick with measles during the fourth grading period and the final exams. Of course being only in the first grade, this was really no big deal. I could still move on to the second grade despite missing the finals. However I was in the running for the honor students in my class and so my teacher took all my exams to our home and I had the chance to take them and keep my standing. I completed the first grade as third honor overall. My parents were so proud and mom came up on stage to pin my ribbon as third honor. I had barely recovered from my “tigdas” (measles) then and looked really thin and pale in the camera.

(more next post...)

Of the weather, teaching and hope

It’s the last week of classes and exams and students have been passing by my desk saying hello and hoping to get a chance to ask me if I had finished checking their project and folder and whether they passed or not.

While I’m getting a headache from the constant temperature changes; the Library where I’m stationed is air-conditioner cold and when I get to pick up my daughter from her school at noon, it will be like 49 degrees, desert-summer hot! Heading back to my desk after lunch, I feel like an old candle at my wick’s end, melted to the last of my still standing wax. However, lately, I suspect my headache also springs from reading the projects and going through folders of the three sections that I teach this semester.

When once a student I’d give my project to my teachers well in advance of the deadline, my students seem to start working on theirs only ON the deadline. Folders and portfolios were also a big deal. They represented the bulk of your work for the entire semester. These folders represented you! The neater, more complete and with high scores they are, the more you feel good about yourself and what you have achieved. Somehow you take pride in what you have accomplished and take painstaking measure to ensure that you submit a portfolio that is not only complete but perhaps shows a bit more and beyond what the teacher has expected. Not in these parts of the globe.

I’ve received folders that have melted and wrinkled under the heat of the sun, left for hours in students’ cars instead of being taken with them to their classes. I’ve seen folder filed higgledy piggledy with papers facing the back or upside down as well as right side up. There have been portfolios with nothing in them save for a few tasks the student has remembered to file. There were even some who photocopied their classmates’ tasks, not even bothering to change or erase the original names and pass it as their own!

Of course there are the good projects and portfolios as well, but these are few and far between. The mediocres and sub standard ones rules the very few who really take an effort to pass with flying colors.

Perhaps it is the culture of being part of a community, a tribe, than being recognized as one. Perhaps it is the laid back way of the desert dwellers where a passing grade is often good enough. Why sweat it out some more when I already passed, claimed several of my students who were happy with projects graded in 70’s and 80’s when they could have re-done it and got perhaps 90’s or even the perfect 100. “No thanks, too troublesome” like Shikamaru, a favorite character in the anime Naruto would often say.

For now that have passed and that’s what matters. No need to shine, no reason to step up. It is still a communal attitude that rules here and though I take comfort in the relative lax attitudes of my students, I often wonder how they will become as future bosses, leaders and law-makers of their country. Would this laxness prevail or would they slowly grow out of it as they grow older? I’ve been to government offices here where employees work like cogs on a wheel. On the other hand, I’ve also been to quite a few where employees get to drink tea every few hours.

So there’s this pull at the opposite ends of the socio-eco-cultural spectrum that makes up this foster-homeland that I’ve lived in for the past 13 years. With so many cultures in the population each with a different kind of work ethic, the locals are at odds which way to go. Would we preserve the communal and traditional way where one celebrates the glory of a tribe and not go beyond that? Or would we better take the individual and train him to be at par with the many other expatriates that clamor for the same job post locals have access to? How else would you justify hiring a local over an "expat" (expatriate), one who works like a cog and takes pride in his initiative and ambitious drive against the former who is happy to have worked off a few things for today and leaves the rest tomorrow, Inshallah “God willing”, to be handled tomorrow?

Most of my students smirk or give funny, uncomfortable faces when I tell them they must work harder because later on they will be their country’s pillars. They might think of me as some kind of a lunatic with all the drilling I push them: “File your work properly; you are after all college students, NOT kindergarten.” Or the more often sarcastic query I make, “What, you left your folder at home?! How will it ever get completed there?”

I go back to my own memories of first year college when being a green horn in my country’s state university, I had to prove myself to my professors, peers and the thousands who have gone before me that I too am worthy to be in a state university, perhaps there was even the small hope that I would best so many of the others, yet.

With a sigh I submit my final grades to the course coordinator. It’s been lean this semester and though I tell myself that I really should get used to it, having been teaching to the same bunch of first year intakes since 1999, I still wonder whether the rantings and lessons I’ve instilled in my students would ever take root. Or will I be forgotten by the next academic year, passed on as that strict Filipino teacher in the Library who made students do a lot of difficult things. I keep praying for the roots.

Thursday, June 07, 2007